Musings about, um... well, the Seattle Mariners as well as a love affair with this game baseball. By Peter J. White
Sunday, February 23, 2003
Preseason Predictions: Part 1--National League East
The NL East is by far the most interesting of the six divisions this year, what with the Phillies's addition of Thome and Millwood, the blue light specials out of Montreal, the Braves "new and improved" (snicker) rotation, New York's annual reshuffle and Pudge magically appearing in Miami. Remember, that through maybe June last year, only about 6 six games separated the division from top to bottom. It was a dead heat until the Braves took off. Now by Atlanta spreading the pitching wealth around the division, I say its pretty much open. Of the six divisions, these five teams will be the most competitive. Everybody's got a chance. A very slim chance for the Fish and Les Expos, albeit a very slim chance. Here's the rundown from the basement to the pennant winner.
Last year the Marlins finished the season ranked 20 out of 30. The offense scored 699 runs, good for 23rd, while the pitching allowed 763, which puts their defense at 18th. I may say this about several teams, but I'm convinced Florida has no idea what it's doing. Something smells, hmm, fishy (ha, ha) when you nontender one of your best young hitters (Kevin Millar) for "financial reasons," then all of sudden throw 10 mil at Pudge Rodriguez. Baffling. And it will prove the bust of the offseason moves. Mark my words. I look forward to see what progress A.J. Burnett makes this year, provided he doesn't break down from his huge workload last year. There's some young pitching to get excited about. But I've been thinking and hearing that for several years now. Here's to their front office not screwing it up. It's going to be a long season in Miami.
God bless Omar Minaya, the poor guy whose job it is run the Expos as governed by Commish Selig and his cohorts. Along with the Twins (and maybe those World Champion Angels) the surprise of 2002. Who'd a thunk they'd be a contender to the All-Star break? And how about finish better than more than half the teams in baseball. They finished ranked at 14th; the offense at 17th (735 runs) and the pitching (718 runs) at 14th. So I guess the thing to mention here is Orlando Hernandez for Bartolo Colon. What's the deal Omar? Was Johnny Estrada unavailable? Obviously, the pitching, with Colon's 10 wins from last year, won't rank in the top half of teams. And the offense will depend on what happens with Vlad Guerrero. His free agent at the end of the year, so what will Mr. Minaya do when the Expos are far from contention come July 31? Will he ship Guerrero to a contender for prospects or get him signed to preserve some semblance of value to a prospective buyer? How can you not root for the Expos, but hey, lets all look forward to Northern Virginia.
Last year was a mess. I think I understated that. It was far from pretty. No, let me rephrase--It was far from expectations, and that everlasting streak of home losses in August left a pretty nasty taste. They finished the season ranked 16th among the thirty teams in run differential, which isn't so bad considering all of the negative hype. The offense was, well offensive in the way my socks smell at the end of the day, at 24th in baseball (690 runs scored). The pitching was respectable at 12th at 703 runs allowed. Now Glavine makes the rotation better, but he won't have another 2.96 ERA this year, not without Andruw Jones in centerfield. Did I mention he's 37? Cliff Floyd improves the offense, but he's no spring chicken, either. Then there are the shells of Mike Piazza, Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn. That makes a pretty offense... if you're playing in 1997. In 2003, I'll be taking bets on how many days those 4 spend on the DL. All in all, the Mets have their best chance since the late 80s to catch the Braves.
I have 2 words for Dr. Vance: Johnny Estrada. I've rooted against the Braves since that annoying bandwagon tomahawk chop. And I can say with all confidence that it's over. The Braves were 5th in run differential last year; in pitching, they ranked 1st, by far, with 565 runs allowed, 50 better than #2 San Francisco. The offense, well, even with an outfield and middle lineup of Chipper & Andruw Jones and Gary Sheffield they only managed 708 runs, good for 21st in baseball. It's not rocket science to see what was the lifeblood of this team. Trading Tom Glavine, Kevin Millwood and Damian Moss for Mike Hampton, Paul Byrd and Russ Ortiz has got to hurt if you're an Atlanta fan. I mean, that has just got to suck. Don't get me wrong, the Braves won't be a bad team, but they won't be great, and that great loss in pitching makes this division all of a sudden a very exciting and competitive. Strong, no, but all the teams are pretty even now.
What can you say about the Phillies that hasn't been said all ready? Last year, they finished 17th overall in run differential, with an offense that was 19th (710 runs scored) and a defense that was 15th (727 runs allowed). Now, a certain respected baseball columnist has predicted the Phillies to easily score 900 runs this year. Granted, Jim Thome was the most dominant offense force in the AL last year, and he is a very, very significant upgrade over Travis Lee, but 190-run upgrade is asking lot from Thome and David Bell, who wasn't exactly signed for his bat. They'll be better, a lot better, better than anybody in this division, but I'm not putting my World Series money on the Phillies just yet. With Abreu-Thome-Burrell, Philadelphia has as dominant an offensive threesome as Houston's Kent-Berkman-Bagwell and St. Louis's Edmonds-Pujols-Rolen. Have I mentioned they've added Kevin Millwood to the rotation? Again, his addition has brought a lot of hype, but he's not a savior. They should break the top 10 in pitching this year, but not by much. This is a good year to be a Phillie fan, Jim.